Afghanistan earthquake kills at least 1,000 people trapped under rubble

KABUL (Reuters) – The death toll from Wednesday’s earthquake in Afghanistan has reached 1,000, with more than 600 injured, and the death toll is expected to rise as information flows from remote mountain villages, disaster management officials said.

Houses were reduced to rubble and bodies were later dumped on the ground 6.1 magnitude earthquakePictures showed in the Afghan media.

The images showed that an unknown number of people remained trapped under the rubble and in remote areas. Health and relief workers said rescue operations were complicated by difficult conditions including rain, landslides, and many villages located in inaccessible hilly areas.

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Asking a health worker at a major hospital in Paktika said: “Many people are still buried underground. Rescue teams from the Islamic Emirate have arrived and with the help of local residents are trying to get the dead and injured out.” Anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

A rescue operation would prove to be a major test for the authorities of the hardline Islamist Taliban, who seized the country last August after two decades of war and was cut off from much international aid due to sanctions.

A spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said it was sending teams in addition to ambulances and helicopters sent by the Taliban-led Defense Ministry, which is leading the rescue effort.

“Although search and rescue efforts are continuing, heavy rain and wind are hampering the efforts of the helicopters which were said to be unable to land this afternoon,” he said by email.

“The death toll is likely to rise because some of the villages are located in remote areas in the mountains and it will take some time to gather the details,” said Salah El-Din Al-Ayoubi, an Interior Ministry official.

Strongest earthquake in 20 years

The US Geological Survey said Wednesday’s earthquake was the deadliest in Afghanistan since 2002. It struck about 44 kilometers (27 miles) from the southeastern city of Khost, near the border with Pakistan.

Some 119 million people felt the shaking in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries in Pakistan, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC) said on Twitter.

EMSC put the earthquake’s strength at 6.1, although the USGC said it was 5.9.

Al-Ayoubi added that most of the confirmed deaths were in the eastern province of Paktika, where 255 people were killed and more than 200 were injured. In Khost province, 25 were killed and 90 others were taken to hospital.

Haibatullah Akhundzadeh, the supreme leader of the ruling Taliban movement, offered his condolences in a statement.

Adding to the challenge for Afghan authorities are recent floods in several districts, which the disaster management agency said have killed 11 people, injured 50 and closed swathes of highways.

The disaster comes as Afghanistan has been grappling with a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took over as US-led international forces withdrew from the country.

In response to the Taliban’s seizure of power, many countries imposed sanctions on the banking sector in Afghanistan and cut billions of dollars in development aid.

However, humanitarian aid from international agencies such as the United Nations continued.

A foreign ministry spokesman said the Taliban welcomed international assistance. Several countries, including neighboring Pakistan and Iran, said they were sending humanitarian aid including food and medicine.

Large parts of southern Asia are seismically active because the tectonic plate known as the Indian plate is pushing north into the Eurasian plate. Read more

In 2015, an earthquake struck remote northeastern Afghanistan, killing several hundred people in Afghanistan and neighboring northern Pakistan.

In January, an earthquake struck western Afghanistan, killing more than 20 people.

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Additional reporting by Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru, Muhammad Yunus Yawar in Kabul and Jibran Ahmed in Peshawar; Reporting by Kabul Newsroom, Alasdair Pal in Delhi; Written by Charlotte Greenfield and Gibran Bashimam; Editing by Robert Percell, Clarence Fernandez, Angus McSwan and Lisa Schumaker

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.